Are Mental Illnesses Hereditary?

Mom with her daughter who has a mental health condition

Mental health problems are a common concern among people, especially now that one in five people in the United States suffers from some form of mental illness. Parents who have mental illness worry they will pass on these traits to their children. Many people who have relatives who have mental health struggles may fear that they will also develop the same problems in their lives. But the truth is that many factors can contribute to mental illness. Genetic factors may play a role, but they aren’t the only cause of mental illness. People develop mental illnesses due to a combination of multiple factors that differ in each individual.

Finding a precise cause for mental illnesses is difficult due to the nature of psychology. And because of the complex connection between body and mind, it is often even more challenging to isolate a single cause or correlation between physical and mental symptoms.

In any case, doctors know that certain factors may increase your risk of mental illness. A person’s environment, society, genetics, and biology may increase the risk of mental illness.

Environmental Factors

Environmental toxins or stressors in utero may contribute to the development of mental illness in some individuals. An infection in the mother, drug use, excessive drinking, or exposure to toxic chemicals could negatively affect the fetus and increase the risk of mental health problems in later life.

You can also develop a mental illness later in life due to environmental factors or circumstances. Some examples are:

  • Abuse of drugs or alcohol
  • Having a chronic illness
  • A brain injury or another form of trauma
  • Neglect or abuse of children during childhood
  • Overwhelming stress in one’s life
  • The absence of support from friends and family

Socioeconomic Factors

It is also possible that socioeconomic status and other social factors can contribute to someone’s risk of developing a mental illness. For instance, the World Health Organization (WHO) has conducted a review of published research on social factors that contribute to mental illness. The study found that someone’s poverty level was correlated with mental disorders in 70 percent of the 115 studies examined. Nevertheless, the methods used for determining poverty varied widely. Several studies showed that low income is a marker of poverty that is connected to mental health problems. According to other studies, material disadvantage, unemployment, and having less education have been associated with mental illness.

Genetic Factors

There is evidence that genes can contribute to mental health problems. Having said that, even if a person has a genetic predisposition towards mental illness, they may not develop it. Mental health disorders are determined by a number of factors, including your life experiences.

If you have a blood relative who has a mental illness, it might be worthwhile to discuss it with your doctor. The likelihood of you experiencing a mental disorder increases if you have a close relative with mental illness. However, this is not necessarily a guarantee that you will develop a mental disorder.

Genes can influence the expression of mental illness in multiple ways. Some of these genetic influences are listed below:

Single Gene Expression

The body develops physical or mental illnesses due to the activation of one gene. Such instances are rare, especially with mental health disorders.

Epigenetic Expression

It is possible for a gene to express itself or not at various times during your life, especially in relation to environmental factors. The genetic expression does not follow a predictable pattern. It’s unlikely that you can develop a mental illness unless you have a particular combination of genes and other factors.

Gene Polymorphisms

Genetic polymorphism is a variation of your DNA that distinguishes you from others, even an identical twin. A mental health problem can still be caused by a combination of environmental, social, biological, or genetic factors.

As mentioned, there is no reason to believe that having a mental illness in your family means you will also develop the condition. Nevertheless, genetics play a role in increasing your risk for mental health problems. Discuss your risk with your doctor or a therapist if a member of your family suffers from mental health issues. If you suspect you have a mental disorder, you can also have your primary care doctor screen for signs and prescribe medication or therapy.

In the event of a mental illness or if you’re trying to bounce back better from life’s problems, know that therapy should not be viewed as a shameful thing. Mental self-care should be viewed as no different from going to your primary care provider if you feel physically ill. No matter your genetic, environmental, biological, or societal risk factors, therapy can prevent the complications of untreated mental illness and boost your mental health. Furthermore, you are not required to have a diagnosable issue to get counseling. Therapy is a great way to cope with life’s challenges.

Life Adjustment Team

If you live in or around the Los Angeles area, please contact us to make an appointment with the Life Adjustment Team. Whatever your genetic background, you can find ways to improve your mental health and cope with mental illness. Get started today by scheduling an appointment.

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